As an art lover, devotee of museums and the granddaughter of Neapolitans, I implore you to visit the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. This world-class museum on par with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Borghese Gallery and the Uffizi is empty of visitors. As a consequence, budget cutbacks have forced the museum to scale down its hours.
A friend and fellow art historian was there in October with a long list of the famous works she had made an art pilgrimage to see. One of the works was off-view because the gallery was closed due to staffing cutbacks. In a mix of English and Italian, a sympathetic gallery guard offered to ask a curator for special permission. My friend was then escorted by the curator to the off-view painting where they marveled together at its majesty. Stories like this illustrate the soul of Naples, a city which may appear rough around the edges, but quickly reveals its warm heart.
With a sudden uptick in tourism to Naples inspired by the popular novels by Elena Ferrante, now is the perfect time to discover Capodimonte. If you haven't purchased tickets to the Uffizi in Florence months in advance, take the Freciarossa train to Naples instead. The collection is a series of one knockout after the next including works by Masaccio, Botticelli, Mantegna, Pieter Bruegel, Raphael, El Greco and Correggio.
Capodimonte is an encyclopedic museum with works ranging from Roman to modern art and is in the top three largest museums in Italy. It includes historic rooms and furniture and a beautiful park overlooking the city. The building project began in 1738 as a hilltop palace for the ruling Bourbon royalty. By 1787, a studio for painting restoration was established there. In 1799, the Bourbons were overthrown including the Neapolitan queen who was Marie Antoinette's sister. The French took control of the city.
Recalling the mythological founding of Naples by a lovesick siren scorned by Odysseus, they called it "The Parthenopean Republic." During this time, the art collection was moved to the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Later Capodimonte became a palace in the House of Savoy. It finally became a public museum in 1950.
The main two floors are the "National Gallery" and display the most famous works of art. The two most famous paintings among tourists is is Caravaggio's "Flagellation of Christ" and Andy Warhol's "Vesuvius."
The Farnese Collection of art is the core of the museum's collection, most of which is on the first floor. It includes Titian's "Danae", Bellini's "Transfiguration of Christ" and Parmigianino's "Lucrezia" and "Antea". While reading Elena Ferrante's "The Story of a New Name", I imagined that Lila looked like "Antea", minus the Renaissance swag.
Art from Naples fills the museum's second floor. This is where you will find the Caravaggio painting, Jusepe de Ribera's "Drunken Silenus", Titian's "Annunciation and my favorite work of all, "Judith and Holofernes" by the famous female artist, Artemisia Gentileschi. Art lovers, this painting should be on your bucket list.
Click here to learn about Women in the Museo di Capodimonte.
How to visit Capodimonte
The museum and park are on a hilltop overlooking Naples. Take a quick cab ride from the historic city center to Via Miano, 2-9. Or buy a ticket at any newsstand or "tabacchi" and catch bus 178 at Piazza Museo, right in front of the Archaeological Museum to go to the Capodimonte Museum.
Hours: 8:30-7:30 daily except, Wednesday. Not all galleries will be open due to cutbacks.
Entrance fees: Adults €7,50, After 1400 €6,50, Reduced €3,75 (This is peanuts. If the museum moves you, buy a membership.)
Go to Capodimonte now. And if you do, report back. I want to share your stories!